National Safeguarding Unit (NSU) - Safe Activities For Everyone

Find information on the signs and symptoms of child abuse. 

  • Signs and symptoms of child abuse
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In this section we have outlined what child abuse is, how you can identify the signs and symptoms plus who to report a concern to.

Child abuse is the term used when an adult harms a child or a young person under the age of 18.

Child abuse can take four forms, all of which can cause long term damage to a child:

1. physical abuse
2. emotional abuse
3. neglect
4. child sexual abuse.

Most types of child abuse can take one or several of these forms, for example bullying and domestic violence are often both physical and emotional forms of abuse.

A child may be experiencing abuse if he or she is:

  • frequently dirty, hungry or inadequately dressed
  • left in unsafe situations or without medical attention
  • constantly "put down", insulted, sworn at or humiliated
  • seems afraid of parents or carers
  • severely bruised or injured
  • displays sexual behaviour which doesn't seem appropriate for their age
  • growing up in a home where there is domestic violence
  • living with parents or carers involved in serious drug or alcohol abuse.

Remember, this list does not cover every possible type of child abuse. You may have seen other things in the child's behaviour or circumstances that worry you.

Abuse is always wrong and it is never the young person's fault. If you’re worried about a child, please call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 for advice.


Bruises on children 
NSPCC. Detailing how to spot the differences between accidental and non-accidental bruises.

Fractures in children 
NSPCC. Covers the relationship between fractures and physical abuse.

Thermal injuries on children
NSPCC. Information to help you identify scalds and burns as the result of abuse.

Head and spinal injuries in children
NSPCC. A leaflet which summarises what is currently known about inflicted head and spinal injuries in children.

Oral injuries and bites on children
NSPCC. A leaflet about oral injuries and human bites in relation to child abuse.

Other sources of information

NSPCC inform
What to do if you’re worried a child is being abused

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